Recently, I was talking with an interesting man about working with teenagers. He said, “You can deal with young people until they get a car and then you’ve lost them for a few years. Once they get gasoline and smell perfume, they’re gone.” I had to laugh—he was so right.
These cute and adorable little creatures that think everything you say is the gospel truth turn into opinionated and reclusive (or should I say absent from the home fires) half-formed adults that think you didn’t get past the third grade. Whatever intelligence you once had is clouded by outdated information and old cultural practices.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair to include all teenagers into this descriptive mold. Many work hard and prepare themselves for adulthood, learning from the examples of success and failure from those who have gone ahead of them, or are in their peer groups. They have been treated well by their parents and feel valued, or having been treated like a throw-away, resolve to live differently than that in the future. I fell into a middle group. Treated like a farm hand, and discouraged from getting an education, I was determined to leave that farm when I graduated and make a life more to my liking. And I did. Several people gave me a hand-up.
However, I had a rebellious streak, trying out things I really wanted to do, but wise enough not to get myself in trouble. There were a few times I bumped that line pretty hard, but the Lord protected me. (If I am ever tempted to be judgemental of others, I just remember I was guilty too.)
Whatever a young person’s circumstances are, they are entering a turbulent time in their lives. Hormones kick in, and driving forces push their buttons. Adolescence is a time of breaking away from their parent’s identity, and they are forming their own distinctive character. Wise parents allow them to explore boundaries, make mistakes, and be there to catch them. Their decision-making capabilities aren’t complete until they get a little older. I shudder at the wrong choices that can land them in jail for years to come. So many times those decisions are from unchecked impulses or from defending a friend. It’s hard to say “no.”
This man and I were talking about providing a place for teens to come for entertainment, mentoring, and education on an ongoing basis. We both agreed that we believe in the goodness and integrity of the human heart. That includes teenagers :)… It would be crucial to have leadership who would listen, love and encourage, and not be judgemental. I would add “not force-feed religion.” God doesn’t do that, and we shouldn’t either. It can be discussed when the teen is curious and asks. Leaders should live in such a way that others instinctive know there is something special about them.
And parents, just remember that your teenager will soon realize that you are not an idiot when they get in the “twenty somethings.”